When you have come into the land that the LORD your God is giving you as an inheritance to possess, and you possess it, and settle in it, you shall take some of the first of all the fruit of the ground, which you harvest from the land that the LORD your God is giving you, and you shall put it in a basket and go to the place that the LORD your God will choose as a dwelling for his name. You shall go to the priest who is in office at that time, and say to him, “Today I declare to the LORD your God that I have come into the land that the LORD swore to our ancestors to give us.” When the priest takes the basket from your hand and sets it down before the altar of the LORD your God, you shall make this response before the LORD your God: “A wandering Aramean was my ancestor; he went down into Egypt and lived there as an alien, few in number, and there he became a great nation, mighty and populous. When the Egyptians treated us harshly and afflicted us, by imposing hard labor on us, we cried to the LORD, the God of our ancestors; the LORD heard our voice and saw our affliction, our toil, and our oppression. The LORD brought us out of Egypt with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm, with a terrifying display of power, and with signs and wonders; and he brought us into this place and gave us this land, a land flowing with milk and honey. So now I bring the first of the fruit of the ground that you, O LORD, have given me.” You shall set it down before the LORD your God and bow down before the LORD your God. Then you, together with the Levites and the aliens who reside among you, shall celebrate with all the bounty that the LORD your God has given to you and to your house.
I wonder what the Hebrews would have thought of Moses autographing the stone tablets of the law. This command in Deuteronomy was to trust and give all worship to God. It wasn’t Moses, Aaron, Miriam, or any other human leader who had liberated the Israelites from the suffocating grasp of Egypt. It was God who saved them from oppression, and it was God who they were commanded to bring their first fruits to. It wasn’t long before the Israelites put their trust into fallible people, looking to them for liberation and leadership, trusting God less and less. This led to invasion and exile. When I see how people defend our leaders who use religion as voting leverage but do not provide first fruits or exhibit fruits of the Spirit I wonder if we’re repeating the mistakes of history because we think we’re immune or because we’re not reading our Bibles.
I slack in reading my Bible too. But we’re in critical times where ignoring the lessons of the past is to our own detriment.
As we enter the season of lent we have an opportunity to take a step back and truly consider where our allegiances and priorities lie, and if they are being held together with integrity or in conflict. We cannot afford to be swayed by cheap tricks like Bible signing, wrapping arms around American flags, and being prayed over by religious leaders. Are our leaders acting with compassion, being driven by equality and justice, guarding human dignity, and uplifting the least of these? Are they giving all that they have and all that they are to the service of others? When they profess faith are they giving of their first fruits?
And then we turn to ourselves. Are we active in our faith, or just once a week pew-sitters? Do we show up on Sundays for the sake of being comforted, or so that God will speak a new word to challenge us and help us grow? Are we people of faith so that our belief will serve our own interests, or so that we might be servants to God’s world?
I will be ruminating on these questions this lenten season, remembering the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob…the God of Eve, Hagar, Deborah, and Miriam. I am transitioning from my job into a time of uncertainty. I am moving. I am leaving a painful, terrible situation. I have a lot of grief and pain weighing me down. My faith has taken a beating. As I figure out where I am going from here, I am considering this scripture and these questions. I’ll be praying about the first fruits in my life and holding my leaders accountable for theirs. I share this in hopes that you will consider these questions too.